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7 Hardwood Flooring Design Tips

Design Tips for Hardwood flooring and refinishing

7 Design Tips for hardwood floors

Hardwoods are a central part of the home.  They add beauty and warmth, and they can serve as a unifying device.  I wanted to provide some design advice for those buying new hardwood floors or refinishing their existing hardwood.   These principles should apply to virtually all decorating styles.

Please note that this article may contain affiliate links.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.

1.   Use the same species and color in all areas

Design Tips for hardwood flooringUsing the same species and stain color in all areas makes your space look larger and more cohesive.  The less you vary colors/surfaces from room to room, the larger your home will look and feel.  By the way, this is one of the reasons so many are gravitating towards hardwood flooring in kitchens (as well as entryways).  It’s okay if you want to change the width of the planks in some rooms, but definitely keep the same species and color throughout.


Most homes here in Westchester, NY (and the Greater NYC Metro area) already have some hardwood and it’s generally oak.  Note that there are 2 main species of oak – red and white oak, and if you are adding wood to additional areas (e.g. kitchen, entryway, repair), it’s important to know whether you have red oak or white oak (so you can match).


2.  Consider highlighting one to two rooms, pending on the layout of your home.

oak hardwood with walnut border - hardwood design ideasNote: this only works in some homes, pending the layout and size of home (and budget of course).  Often, I have customers adding one or two rooms of hardwood (and they already have hardwood in the rest of the area).  Sometimes, it looks really classy and special to highlight one or two rooms. 


For example, if you are adding hardwood to the kitchen or a new Great Room, you may want to consider adding a wider plank there and placing it on a diagonal.  This can make your space look larger and help tie the new wood and old wood together (especially if the dining room and living room wood strips go in different directions.  It works especially well in squarish rooms.


If you are adding hardwood to an entryway, and if it’s large enough and the shape works, you may consider adding a border and then placing the hardwood inside the border on a diagonal.  Or, you could trying a herringbone or chevron pattern.


walut border with herringboneSometimes, I’ve seen the borders or herringbone look really nice when they are in the living room and dining room, separated by an entryway with a simple straight lay (or tile).  Adding a little bit of flair can make your home look really special.  But, please be aware that these custom design do cost more due to more intricate labor, added wood and sometimes more expensive pieces of wood (e.g. chevron and herringbone pieces are pre-cut).


Don’t over do it.  If you do herringbone or borders in all rooms, they no longer look so special.


And, think about the style you are going for.  Borders and herringbone are more traditional; chevron and diagonals are more modern.


3.  Select a satin finish – for style, practicality and longevity

Satin finish is the most popular sheen and you can read more about it here.  Satin looks classy and shows dirt, dents and scratches less.  It tends to look better longer as well.  Satin is even more important for heavy traffic areas such as kitchens and entryways.


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4.  Choose the flooring color before the paint color.

hardwood flooring design tipsYou are much more limited on floor stain choices than paint, so it’s much smarter to choose this first and then select the paint color(s).  Often people will use the same stain color on all floors, but vary the paint colors by rooms.  This is another reason to select the floor color first.  The floors need to unify everything. 


And, often homeowners will paint more often than refinish the floors…or at least paint one or two rooms, so you want a stain color that will have longevity and work in all areas.


Also, be sure to make sure the color of the floors go with the kitchen cabinets. Note: White cabinets are the most popular and will go with virtually any floor color.


Regarding the order of operations, check out this article on whether it’s better to do the floors or painting first.


Decide on:

  • Warm vs. cool tones.  Warm tones would be reds, golds and cool colors would be browns, grays, blues.
  • Light vs Dark floors (and the combo with the paint).  You can read more here on Dark vs Light floors.


Note: There are no right or wrong answers here.  It depends on what YOU like.


5.  Choose wider planks if installing new hardwood floors

wide planks - design ideas for hardwoodWider planks are more in style. They make your room look larger and of course there are fewer gaps between the planks. The standard in most homes is 2 1/4″ and if you are looking to add to what you have, you may want 2 1/4″ for consistency. But, if you are starting from scratch and installing new hardwood floors (or adding them to the 2nd floor), I’d recommend going a bit wider i.e. 3 1/4″ or wider.


6.  Decide on the hardwood flooring style that you prefer

7 design tips for hardwood flooringAgain, there is no right or wrong answer here.  This is a matter of what you prefer and the style you are going for. Do you want a more traditional look or a more contemporary look?  What is the style of your home and how do you want it to look?



Do you prefer more or less color variation?

  • Generally, the exotic hardwoods (e.g. Brazilian cherry, Mahogany, Brazilian Walnut) have much more color variation.  Oak tends to have less color variation between boards.
  • Higher grades of wood (e.g. select or clear) have less variation than lower grades (e.g. No 1 Common, No 2 common, rustic, cabin grade, etc.)



Do you prefer more or less graining?

  • Generally, red oak has more graining than white oak
  • Generally very dark and very light colors show less graining
  • Generally lower grades of wood have more knots and color variation (e.g. No 1, No 2, cabin grade, rustic, etc vs Select grade, clear, rifted)
  • Generally maple, birch and exotic hardwoods (e.g. Brazilian Cherry, Santos Mahogany, Brazilian Walnut



Do you prefer lighter or darker woods?

  • dark vs light hardwood floorsOak is naturally light but can be stained very dark (or anywhere in between).  Hickory is very similar.
  • Maple and birch are naturally lighter than oak (often they are called blonde).  They can be stained, but these are closed pore woods, so they are more challenging (and expensive) to stain and often come out blotchy
  • Exotic woods are generally darker and redder (and they can not be made lighter).


For more information on hardwood species (and pictures of each), check out this article – Most popular hardwood flooring species.  And, generally, oak tends to be most common and least expensive, as it’s more abundant.


7.  Plan for the long term when selecting the wood and species

Hardwood Flooring Design TipsRemember that hardwood flooring can (and should) last a lifetime…and then some (we’ve refinished many floors from the 1700’s and 1800’s).  Styles and colors change over time.  Hardwood scratches.  Accidents happen.  And, eventually, you will probably sell your house (to someone who may have different color preferences.) 


If you have solid hardwood, you are well protected, and you can refinish them multiple times.  You can change the color if you like or keep it.  If you sell to someone else, they can refinish it to make it suit their tastes.


Some woods that have not stood the test of time:

  • Engineered wood – often it can not be refinished, so once these are scratched, they need to be replaced.
  • Pegged wood floors with thick and wide beveled edges.  Besides the fact that these look busy and very dated, the big dark beveled edges do not sand out.  Oh, and these collect a lot of dirt.
  • Parquet –  The majority of parquet is cheap an very dated.  It looks busy and it makes your floor look smaller (vs. strip hardwood).  Over time, the adhesive loosens (from time and heat) and some of pieces slide around and there are gaps.  This is a very dated look and most new homeowners want this replace.  Note: this not to be confused with the super high end parquet which is often called marquetry and is very fancy and beautiful.  Most of this was created in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s and can be treasured.


So think ahead to the long term when you buy hardwood.  Make sure you select hardwood that you love and can live with for a long time and/or refinish to suit your tastes.


Also, think about the future renovations you may do.  Are you planning on adding an addition?  Are you going to take down a wall later.  Are you going to remodel your kitchen later.  How does that impact your flooring?  Will you be able to add more wood and match it later?  It’s better to plan ahead for what you may do.  It will help you make smarter choice.



7 Hardwood flooring design tipsHopefully, this advice is helpful.  The 2 best pieces of advice I can give you is to choose what you like and to think of your home holistically – the color of floors and walls and the overall tone you want to set.  I’d also recommend you look at other people’s homes and see what you like and what you don’t.


Related articles

color consultation for paint and stain colorsIf you live in Westchester County NY, I offer color consultations to advise customers on paint colors and stain choices. My designer discount at the paint stores usually more than offsets the cost for the hour consultation. Read more here.  I’ve started to offer phone consultations as well.

Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors


7 Hardwood Flooring Design Tips


11 thoughts on “7 Hardwood Flooring Design Tips”

  1. I want to install hardwood for my front entrance. Thanks for the advice about picking the floor color and then matching the walls to that. Another thing to do it to make sure that in the kitchen you go with colder colors since they tend to encourage eating less.

  2. I really liked your website. Best I’ve seen. You were informative and concise and helped clarify my search for wood floors. I liked your playing the woman card. That’s what we need in the White House. Sorry for politicking but overall “women” get it done!

    1. Joyce – Thanks so much. Many of my customers enjoy working with a woman owned/run company. Yes, you’re right that we get things done. We also pay attention to the details.

  3. I like walking into homes that match, and have similar flooring throughout the whole home. I know most people like to add tile to a bathroom, and wood or carpet everywhere else, but I like sticking with the wood everywhere. That way, your bathroom flooring matches the rest of your home. Plus, I just think that wood flooring looks the most beautiful anyways!

    1. Kendall – I agree that wood is the best, and it’s ideal to have in most areas. Many include wood in a powder room, and I think that’s great. But, I would not recommend wood for main bathrooms where you shower or have a bath as the wood can easily get ruined just from the steam. However, you can do a tile that looks like hardwood in those areas and still have colors matching.

  4. Yes, I agreed with the fact that flooring is the center of attraction for any home and before choosing the flooring option, we should make sure about the design and quality. In most of the cases, we are choosing best interior decorator for our home design; but from this article, we learn some basic tips on how to design our flooring and how to maintain it.

  5. I like your advice to figure out the coloring before you get the floor installed. You want to be sure that you are doing what you can to keep your floors in top condition. That includes having a good color. Do you have any tips about finding a good person to install your floors for you?

  6. Michelle Cohen

    Hi there,
    You were one of my most helpful resources at the beginning of our Brooklyn townhouse renovation, when I started to peel off the lid from the wood flooring jungle. I had the pros you recommended come have a look and give an estimate too but ultimately we’re going to have the guy our contractor uses do it, he seems quite experienced. We’ve decided to use white oak, 3 1/4 inch, herringbone on the parlor floor with bona naturale, and regular straight laid of the same wood on the other floors, with a bona (or loba?) nordic tone where we have some sand and refinish/matching going on. Top floor we’re painting!
    ; )

    I have a new question mark that has arisen and would like to ask your advice. Our reno is moving along and our architects want to provide the contractor with a “flooring plan” especially for the herringbone. Like a design drawing.
    The herringbone is going to be in the three main rooms of our parlor floor, the central entry hall (we have a typical brownstone except it has a center stair and stair hall), living room and kitchen/dining room. The entry hallway from the stoop will be straight as willl an extension off the kitchen.

    After going back and forth I’ve decided to not give the herringbone a border, it seems to have a nice, solid look without it. it’s an old house but my interior style is quite mid-century modern so I’m not into anything super-trad or sleek contemporary.

    but beyond that, I want to make sure that the wood strips aren’t too short, or that it looks good, but I dont have any particular idea in mind other than looking at pictures.
    Is there a “standard” size for the wood strips? I like larger rather than smaller for the design…

    The only kind of border I can see is something to delineate the change between rooms, I think only the hall and extension where there are straight boards. Should there be some kind of delineation between the three main rooms? I kind of like the big open space idea.

    Anyway, do you know if there is a standard size (length of boards, not width) for herrringbone, for “medium” or “large”? or do you have any suggestions?

    Many thanks for any insight you can provide, not sure how to do this flooring plan.


    1. Hi Michelle. It’s good to hear from you again and glad you’re making progress. Usually, they have standard sizes for the herringbone – usually there are 2 to 3 places. Just call the place you’re getting the wood from and ask them. I have a hunch you want a size that’s around 15″ (but it may not be exactly 15″). You may be able to get samples so you can see as well and it will help you visualize.

      Regarding transitions between rooms, that’s really hard for me to advise you on as I can’t see it. Usually people have borders and then straight lay on the edges so there is never an issue. It just looks right. A warning point for you (if you don’t use a border…chances are since you’re in a brownstone, your walls aren’t straight. It may show more if you don’t do a border. Regardless, if you don’t have a border, you will need to look at how the rooms transition and flow together. If you’re not doing a border, the herringbone pattern will need to flow/continue into the next room (except hallway where you have straight lay. Otherwise, you’ll need to put in straight lay piece(s)…abutting herringbone together will look horrible. and, do bear in mind that walls are probably not staight and certainly not from room to room, so continuing will probably show issues around the edges. Usually you do herringbone squared for each room and often a border. This was done more for style, but it also solves the other issue. I hope I’m making sense.

      You should really consult your architect on this as they should be more familiar with your place and know all about this stuff.

      I hope this helps.

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